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Foundation for International Development/Relief (FIDR) ~ Opening up the Future for Children in Developing Nations by Offering Community-Rooted Support ~

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Mr. Naoyuki Koyama, Director of Operations for the Foundation for International Development/Relief.

October's Close Up introduces the Foundation for International Development/Relief (FIDR), a public interest incorporated foundation. FIDR undertakes international cooperation assistance projects that aim to assist people in developing nations so that they can escape poverty and achieve independence. It is also an international cooperation non-government organization (NGO) that, including here within Japan, undertakes emergency assistance projects throughout Asia to support victims of natural disasters. Concerning what distinguishes the manner in which it operates, FIDR endeavors to appreciate the problems that confront local communities from numerous perspectives, and, rather than narrowing its assistance to focus upon particular categories, it instead then undertakes the type of support most required in a particular region. On this occasion, we were fortunate enough to speak with Operations Director Mr. Naoyuki Koyama, with the focus of our discussions mainly being the projects that FIDR has undertaken in Cambodia and Vietnam.

Q. Please tell us about what led to the establishment of FIDR and how the organization has developed until now.


A. FIDR came into being in April of 1990. At that time, which was a period when people first started to become interested in international problems such as the starvation that was occurring in Africa, etc., with the aim of benefiting developing nations by implementing the sort of detailed support in which Japan excels, FIDR was created through some basic funding whose main source was a donation from Mr. Tojuro Iijima, the founder of Yamazaki Baking Co., Ltd. Initially, FIDR activities involved assisting international cooperation NGOs that were based in Japan, and we also undertook combined emergency assistance projects in response to natural disasters along with other groups. However, over time we came to focus on international cooperation assistance projects that FIDR undertook itself. In 1996, FIDR established its first overseas office in Cambodia, and this was followed two years later by an office being established in Vietnam. In 2012, we also established a presence in Nepal. Meanwhile, here in Japan, in addition to our Tokyo Headquarters, we also have an activities base in Yamada Township in Iwate Prefecture which has been involved in recovery efforts in the wake of the Great East Japan Earthquake.

Q. Please tell us what distinguishes the international cooperation assistance projects that FIDR undertakes.


A. Because within developing nations there tend to be multiple problems that are intertwined with one another, even if support is offered in response to single categories such as “education” or “healthcare,” etc., such support does not result in resolving the poverty issue. Thus, at FIDR, we initially look at the particular country or region in overall terms and try to grasp the problems that exist. Based on what we find, we then consider what can be done. The result of this strategy is that we often create projects that involve dealing with problems in multiple categories, and such a strategy has become something that distinguishes the way in which FIDR acts.

Q. What sort of support are you undertaking in Cambodia?

A. Since 1996, a project that FIDR has been doing in Cambodia involves pediatric surgery, a medical discipline previously not established within the country. This project involves developing surgeons and nurses capable of examining and treating babies and infants, along with staff members who can handle the required anesthesia tasks. We aim to develop this medical discipline and spread it throughout the entire country. Furthermore, within pediatric hospitals in Cambodia, we have also undertaken support activities to ensure that suitable meals are provided to inpatients. Up until now, the meals provided to inpatients within Cambodian hospitals have generally not been perceived to constitute an element of the treatment process. Rather, standard practice has been to feed inpatients one or two meals a day, and in many cases this simply means rice with no side menu. Accordingly, with respect to those hospitals with which FIDR has had involvement, we have made arrangements to ensure that children being treated as inpatients receive three nutritionally-balanced meals a day. Although there are many organizations active in undertaking activities in Cambodia, concerning the issues of pediatric surgery and hospital meals, there are few previous examples of support being offered.

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In addition to developing the discipline of pediatric surgery, FIDR is also taking steps to improve hospital meals.
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Q. So you are talking about undertaking projects in areas and regions that previously were not targets for support activities?

A. That is correct. If you consider central Vietnam, it is also a region where support activities have been relatively thin on the ground. However, FIDR established its Vietnam office in Da Nang, a city located in the vicinity, and via this location we are now undertaking activities in support of the ethnic minorities who live in mountainous areas. With respect to the support of the Catu peoples who live in Quang Nam Province which FIDR commenced in 2001, we started out with a plan of comprehensive development and next we aimed to invigorate the region by improving peoples’ income through traditional woven handicrafts. The villages within the region were subsequently registered and approved as “Traditional Handicraft Villages” by the Quang Nam provincial government, and this has allowed the now confident villagers to recover a sense of identity as an ethnic minority, an identity previously lost due to poverty. As the next step in 2012, we commenced a project within the villages that involves tourism that is in keeping with their culture and the nature that surrounds them, and through such measures we aim to achieve self-sustaining development among local communities.

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Women from the Catu ethnic minority in Vietnam creating “Catu Weaving” (L) and shown in their ethnic dress (R)
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Q. As you are aware, October 16th is World Food Day. Please tell us about the food issues that confront the world.

A. Such food issues can be divided into two major categories. One category involves the problem of starvation that results from occurrences such as drought and war, etc. The other category involves the insufficient nutrition that results from long-term shortfalls in foodstuffs. Within the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) published by the United Nations, the issue of nutrition was also cited in Goal No. 1 (“Eradicate Extreme Poverty and Hunger”), with the number of people in developing nations suffering from chronic malnutrition being effectively halved since 1990. However, among developing nations, the reality is that a huge nutritional discrepancy exists between urban and rural areas. Although it is said that an inability to gain sufficient nutrition from birth to the age of two can have a significant impact on subsequent physical development, the reality is that in those areas where FIDR undertakes support, we do see many children who are undersize for their age. In Kon Tum Province of Vietnam, this problem impacts one in every two children, while in Kampong Chhnang Province in Cambodia, approximately 40% of children are shorter than they should be.

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These photos show training to give both pregnant women and mothers accurate information regarding nutrition.
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Q. Concerning shortfalls in foodstuffs and malnutrition, what sort of measures is FIDR undertaking?

A. Where we find cases of children whose height is shorter than it should be, in other words, regions where malnutrition is an issue; a common factor is that the people tend to have a very limited knowledge and understanding of nutritional issues. Thus, in such areas, we are attempting to strengthen nutritional and hygiene knowledge among pregnant women and mothers, and also improve the meals that are served to children, etc. Furthermore, with respect to rice which represents a dietary staple for such people, we also have to take steps to help them improve crop yields. In Quang Nam Province in Vietnam, which suffers from insufficient rice stocks for three or four months of the year, we have not implemented initiatives such as improving rice seedlings or deploying high-yield varieties whose use is dependent on chemical fertilizers or the deployment of agrichemicals. Instead, we have introduced farmers to a planting method called the System of Rice Intensification (SRI). The key to SRI is that when seedlings are planted, more space is left between each individual plant. Although this planting method is more labor-intensive in terms of regulating water levels within paddies and carrying out weeding, etc., because crop yields are able to be increased by a factor of two or three times, even among farmers initially skeptical of the results, once they saw the harvest volumes, they adopted SRI one after another. It is through such means that FIDR is working to respond to the issues of shortfalls in foodstuffs and malnutrition.

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Although paddies planted using the System of Rice Intensification (SRI) initially look rather meager when compared to paddies planted using traditional techniques, by harvest time the stems of SRI plantings have separated and they carry a lot of rice. (The photo on the right shows a rice plant held in the left hand that was grown using SRI).
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Q. What should people do if they want to find out more about FIDR activities?

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FIDR Café events are held regularly.
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A. Firstly, information can be obtained through sources such as the FIDR website, our Twitter account and our Facebook page. As the next step, I would recommend that interested parties participate in one of our events. Here at FIDR, for the purpose of increasing the level of interest both in our own activities and more generally in international cooperation, we hold events that are called “FIDR Café.” We also put out stalls at international cooperation events such as Global Festa. I believe it would be good for people who are interested to participate in such events in order to find out what they, themselves, can do. Furthermore, we are always recruiting volunteers. As such, we eagerly receive people who want to get involved in our activities on a pro bono basis. Another way to get involved is to participate in sightseeing tours that we run to the villages of the ethnic minorities that FIDR supports.

Q. April of this year marked the 25th anniversary of the establishment of FIDR. Please tell me about the organization’s future plans.

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A. FIDR has two missions. One of these is to help create societies in developing nations where children can grow up healthily. The second mission is working together with a wide variety of businesses, organizations and numerous individuals here in Japan in order to promote the cause of international cooperation. Acting by ourselves, there is a limit to what we can do. As such, in the future as well, while greatly valuing the relationships that we enjoy with all those people who support FIDR activities, we hope to receive input in the way of knowledge and experience from many people, and engage in support activities that are even more effective.